Tag Archives: foreign

Top 10 Ways to Lose Friends and Alienate People Abroad

There’s nothing more miserable than feeling lonely and friendless while traveling or working abroad.  The tragic thing is that we often lose friends when abroad because we break some fundamental rules, often without meaning to.  Complete alienation is a sad, sad state and is to be avoided if at all possible.  To do so it helps to remember just how people lose friends.  Here’s a handy Top 10 List:

1)  Keep talking about how amazing it is back home – This one drives locals bonkers.  “Why did you come here if you were just going to talk about your amazing country all the time?”  It’s a valid question.  Blabbering on about your home country is insecure and discourteous.  Enjoy your host country for what it brings.  Wisconsin can be fully enjoyed in all its cheesy glory upon your return.

2)  Take it upon yourself to compare things to home – Here’s a related one that nevertheless needs to be emphasized.  NOBODY wants to know how big, small, cute, dirty or cramped the local transportation, monuments, stores or hotel rooms are compared to what you have at home.  Often these comparisons come across as patronizing and they are rarely appreciated.  Even if you are asked to compare something local to what you have at home, AVOID it, especially if there is any chance you will be perceived as looking down at the local scene.

3)  Be too eager – Don’t worry, if you have just arrived somewhere new you will eventually meet people and make friends.  Don’t be a desperate loser.  Over-eager types are avoided like the plague because they get exhausting on the trail.  Don’t be that person who pounces on locals or fellow travelers with a torrent of questions and over-enthusiastic talk about everything.

4)  Be a clingy life sap – Similarly, don’t be a leech.  Give your new friends some space.  You do not need to hang out with them 24/7.  Show some independence.  Go exploring on your own.  You don’t want to lose friends because you tire them out and never give them a break.

5)  Refuse to learn the language  - Nobody is saying you have to be fluent.  But don’t be so scared off by the local tongue that you don’t try to learn and use some of it.  By trying to speak the language you automatically endear yourself to locals.  You may think that you are going to embarrass yourself learning the new language.  You will.  But the damage of this is far less than if you refuse to learn and run the risk of looking elitist. 

6)  Only hang out with your kind – Abandon your comfort zone.  Do not hang out with only people from your country or only people that speak English.  This may be comfortable but by playing it safe you are shooting yourself in the foot.  You will ignore a ton of opportunities to interact with the amazing locals.

7)  Be a lifeless, unadventurous bore – This speaks for itself.  Take some risks, be adventurous.  Enjoy the unknown and try new things.  People will love you for it.

8)  Think you are a celebrity  - You may be lucky enough to get a lot of attention as the new arrivalDon’t get a big head about it.  Be gracious.  Don’t take the attention for granted.  Use it to reach out to as many people as possible but don’t gloat about being the exotic new foreigner.  This gets old QUICK.  Make the best first impression possible.

9)  Don’t eat the local food – This happens with tourists all the time… they crowd around American fast food chains, pizza joints and Subway restaurants.  This is lame and is an apparent rejection of local cuisine.

10)  Get offended really easily – If you are an American or if you come from another major world power, get used to the fact that people are going to have a problem with some of your politicians and their policies.  Don’t let this get to you.  Expect it and learn to move on.  No point getting all bent out of shape.

How about you?  Lost any friends on the trail?  Let me know how in the comment section.

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Bjorn Karlman

Wolf in Sheeps’ Clothing – The Life of a Third Culture Kid Swede with an American Accent

adjusting to the American life...

Ever since I was in grade school growing up in the Philippines, I have had a confused relationship with America.  I love America but for some reason I have almost always ended up living in countries where anti-American sentiment could run high.

Breeds of anti-Americanism

In the Philippines there was the gratitude for American deliverance from Japanese control during World War II but anger at subsequent interference.  In Britain where I lived as a teen, politicians boasted of the “special relationship” that Britain had with the US while much of the population dismissed Americans as one giant, gun-toting Jerry Springer show.

I was studying in France when George W. Bush was elected the first time and I studied in Latin America soon after his election to a second term.  Those were bad – even dangerous – times to be identified as American.  But through it all I still saw the US as the place that had the most opportunity and I wanted my shot at living there.

Sounding American

I remember making a conscious decision at the age of 12 or 13 that I wanted to sound like an American.  By then I had already decided that I wanted to go to college in the United States and work there afterward.  I figured that any non-American accent would be a barrier if and when I moved to the US so pulling on my various stints in America (basically two six month periods), and the way my American friends and teachers sounded, I accent corrected until almost everyone mistook me for an American.

It helped BUT

I’m not going to lie – despite the fact that I got some crap from European friends for sounding “SO American”, the accent helped as soon as I moved to the US for college.  Somehow the barriers that accents created for other international students didn’t apply to me.  Americans assumed I was one of them until I told them otherwise.  And for the most part, I thought, “mission accomplished.”

Until I felt like a sellout.  Was I just masquerading as someone that I fundamentally was not?  Or was this simply the life of the Third Culture Kid (someone from a certain country/culture that has grown up in a different country and therefore created his or her own hybrid culture.)  I knew that travel and multiple major, long-term international relocations left me not entirely at home anywhere but very familiar with lots of different cultures.  But had I tried too hard and given up too much of my original identity to blend in with Americans? The question still bothers me today.

It Gets Touchy
My own wife confesses that she forgets that I am Swedish.  And almost everyone else does too.  As much as this can be convenient, conversations sometimes get tense when an American dismisses “socialist” Europe or I share my fairly Scandinavian views on the death penalty, divisive patriotism or the limits of American international influence.  As a disagreement brews and I sense that some sparring is coming up I feel really tense and I realize how American I am NOT.  I used to tackle disagreements head on (if you are a long-term CultureMutt reader you’ll remember some sharply worded opinion pieces:)) but nowadays I don’t think the fight is worth it.  Why not emphasize common ground rather than keep stressing about the things about America that I dislike?

Making it Work

Fundamentally I believe in this common ground and how it has to be the focus – not just for this Swede living in California, but for all of us internationally.  Helping to build international cultural common ground in order to do good things for society is one of the reasons I write CultureMutt.  I want to do my part.  The world is getting flatter and more connected every day.  Yes, this makes for a lot of confusion and tension.  But it can also lead to enormous progress and growth as we learn understand and accept each other.

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Bjorn Karlman